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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Minute(s) (as in time) (03/03/11)

TITLE: More Precious Than Pearls
By Ann Grover


The waves slapped the side of the boat, echoing the sound of Ahmed’s hand striking Huda’s wet shoulder.

“Down,” he ordered.

Huda took several deep breaths before letting go of the boat and disappearing into the water.

“Useless rotten pomegranate.” He saw Samira still clinging to the boat. “What are you waiting for?” He pointed skyward. “The sun is still high. Down!”

“Our bellies are empty. You gave us no grease for our skin and we are cold.”

“You defy me?” Ahmed leaned over and struck Samira. “There are many oysters to gather before your feet touch the sand.”

Fire sparked in Samira’s dark eyes. Defiantly lifting her chin, she inhaled and slipped under the waves.

Ahmed shook his fist. “Worthless fleas.”

Huda’s slick head broke the surface, and Ahmed grabbed the rope attached to the basket of oysters and hauled it into the boat. He emptied the basket and threw it overboard. “Down.”

Samira had not risen, but Ahmed was unworried, for Samira had the rare gift of being one with the sea, embraced by it. When she dived, Ahmed’s fingers passed over many knots on his reed, as she could hold her breath longer than any other diver.

Ahmed’s greed had been ignited when he discovered her gift, and he forced her to dive deep and long, plucking basketful after basketful of oysters from the ocean bed. Every pearl belonged to the sultan, even those pearls still resting at the bottom of the sea, and Ahmed’s status was elevated with every pearl retrieved.

Samira finally emerged, and Ahmed’s eyes bulged when he saw her brimming basket. He hurled it, empty, back into the water. Samira adjusted the bone clip on her nose and followed the basket as it descended.

Huda rose twice more, but Samira remained immersed.

“The sun sets and she decides to work.” Ahmed frowned, though, as he pulled Huda into the boat. It was long, too long, even for Samira. Ahmed’s lips moved, and he slid his fingers along the knotted reed he’d pulled from the cloth he wore twisted around his loins. Perils lurked beneath the waves: jellyfish, sharks, barracuda, and the painful, often fatal, divers sickness, if Samira had dived too far.

“Come, Samira, come” whispered Huda and was a rewarded with a clout across her shoulders.

“I lost count, stupid daughter of a pig.”

Scanning the water, Ahmed began reciting again, grasping the reed tightly. Finally, there was a tug on the basket’s rope, and Samira’s dark head appeared.

“You foolish, misbegotten . . .” He yanked her into the boat, slapping her repeatedly.

In the pearling village, the girls lay on their mats.

“You must not anger Ahmed,” Huda begged.

“He is a confused man.” Samira twisted her hair into a braid. ‘Go down for long time, but come up quickly,’ he says.”

“He is our master.”

“He cannot own me,” murmured Samira, turning on her side.

“Hurry, lazy spawn of lice. Work and you will eat. Down.”

The girls pushed wads of beeswax into their ears and slipped the clips onto their noses. Hour after hour, they plunged down, rising with heaping baskets.

Ahmed’s eyes glittered. “You might earn your dinner after all. Yet, I doubt there is even one pearl in this pile. Down!”

Ahmed continued to goad the girls, threatening to whip them, starve them, sell them, if they did not bring up overflowing baskets of oysters. Several times, Huda saw Samira gazing across the endless, rippling ocean, and a nameless fear bit at her insides.

In the fiery rays of the sinking sun, an exhausted Huda emerged with only a few oysters, her fingers cut and bleeding.

“I should tie a stone to you, useless camel tick.” Ahmed grunted, but his eyes were searching, for there was no sign of Samira’s glossy head.

The knotted reed appeared in Ahmed’s hand.

Four, five, six knots slid through his fingers. Huda clung to the side of the boat, trembling, whispering her own prayer.

Eight, nine, ten, then twelve knots, far longer than any pearl diver had been known to stay in the sea.

“Rancid piece of sheep fat.” Ahmed blinked, squinting into the inky water. “The most valuable pearl diver on the island. Eaten by a shark.”

While Ahmed cursed, Huda watched the horizon, wondering if the impossible, the unthinkable, had happened, if the gift that had enslaved Samira had carried her to freedom.

Ahmed smacked Huda’s bleeding fingers, Samira seemingly forgotten. “Down, worthless flea.”

Smiling, Huda let the sea swallow her.

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This article has been read 606 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Anita van der Elst03/10/11
So sad. I hope Samira made it to safety. Huda too. Well-written. The mean Ahmed sure had an endless supply of derogatory labels to throw at them.
Bonnie Bowden 03/11/11
I am so glad Jesus granted women respect. It is too bad some men degrade and despise them.

Well written.
Kimberly Russell03/13/11
I really enjoyed this story. It flowed well, had conflict, and and built to the conclusion. Good job.
Margaret Kearley 03/15/11
So sad. So well written. To think this sort of thing may still happen is heartbreaking. Thankyou for writing.
Rachel Phelps03/15/11
What a unique and well-wrought story. I enjoyed every morsel of it. Excellent atmosphere and characters!
Verna Cole Mitchell 03/16/11
This sad story brings such a feeling of compassion for the pearl diving girls. That's excellent writing.
Loren T. Lowery03/16/11
I find it difficult to imagine this type of enslavement. I think I would have been like Samira when she said Ahmed could not own her; and like her, I too would have most likely staged my own death to escape (if that's what happened. The reader is left wondering if Huda's smile was one of happiness for her friend or if she too was about to choose Smira's fate. Enjoyed all of the ways you were able to make Ahmed's slurs meaningful without being too offensive. The story is well-rounded and a good educational read as well.
Beth Muehlhausen03/17/11
What a gripper. Excellent story-telling that kept me hanging to the very end, even though I sensed what was coming.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 03/17/11
Congratulations on placing 12th in Masters and 14th overall!